Designing the Transcendent Web - The Power of Web 3.0

The advent of Web 2.0 allowed users to go beyond the passive consumption of Web content, enabling them to participate fully in the actual generation of content on any number of new media. This shift has been a huge boon to businesses, allowing them to mine rich veins of data about the online behaviour and activities of consumers, thus boosting both online sales and Web marketing efforts. Yet the next stage of the Web is already on the horizon, and it will offer an entirely new level of connectivity, communications, and information on customers, including their attitudes and preferences.

Web 3.0—what we call the Transcendent Web—has four key elements: the ‘Social Web’; ‘Semantic Web’; the ‘Internet of Things’; and ‘Artificial Intelligence’. The Social Web will greatly enhance the capabilities of social networking, allowing for more powerful search, location, recommendation, and similar services. The Semantic Web will connect all the Web’s data and information much more closely, enabling contextually based search and research. The Internet of Things will let Web-connected machines of all kinds communicate with each other and with us, creating a rich flow of data about their location and status. Thanks to advances in Artificial Intelligence, all this information can be aggregated and analysed to further refine search, recommendations, and other kinds of information filtering. According to Booz & Company, the result for users will be a far more personalised online experience; companies will benefit through a much greater flow of data they can apply to product development, marketing and sales, daily operations, and more.

The World of Web 3.0

Imagine a world in which a movie search on your smartphone turns up only the kind of movies you like, and only those playing in your neighbourhood. In which your behaviour, inputs, and interactions on social networks automatically produce lists of recommendations, potential friends, even job offers. In which searching and browsing the Web becomes vastly more interesting and efficient, with results and link suggestions tailored specifically to your interests. In which your ‘virtual representative’, a kind of online personal assistant, keeps working to find you the best information even when you are offline.

“This is the world of Web 3.0, or what we call the Transcendent Web, and it will bring profound changes to people and businesses alike. The complete fulfilment of the vision for the Transcendent Web is still several years in the future, but its outlines are clear. The benefits it will provide users include the creation of a much more personalised Web experience and the automation of many of the services already in use. Businesses, too, will benefit from vastly greater amounts of information about consumers and thus the opportunity to market and sell to them much more directly; they will also be able to take advantage of the greater operational efficiencies brought about by technologies that will keep people, processes, and products connected much more tightly,” said Karim Sabbagh, Senior Partner and the global leader of the Communications, Media, and Technology practice at Booz & Company.

The Transcendent Web will also play a critical role in enabling the rise of Generation C—the always connected, always communicating digital natives who will come of age over the next decade—and in the digitisation of industries as wide-ranging as telecom, financial services, and healthcare. With the Transcendent Web still on the horizon, it is critical that companies understand what’s coming, and how it will affect their businesses, if they hope to take full advantage of what it
will offer.

The Web in Perspective

The Transcendent Web is noted as the culmination of a number of trends in technology and culture dating back to the Web’s beginnings in the early 1990s. The first decade could be called the ‘readable web’—it featured essentially static text and photos posted by Web producers and passively consumed by users. Businesses learned the value of ‘having a website’, but the goal of such sites was primarily to provide information; indeed, at this stage, e-commerce was still in its infancy.

By the mid-2000s, however, the ‘writable Web’, commonly called ‘Web 2.0’, began to emerge. Thanks to new technologies, new front-end interfaces, and new business models, users began to participate actively in the creation of Web content, generating blogs, wikis, videos, and other interactive media. The spectacular success of a variety of social media—most notably MySpace, and then Facebook and Twitter—confirmed the role of the user as the effective centre of the Web world. E-commerce and online advertising boomed, thanks to growing Web usage and successful new sales strategies.

A recent business information technology report stated that recommendation engines will produce much more complete and targeted information, based on a greater knowledge of the habits and preferences of users. Search engines will become more precise and helpful, taking into account context and wording in generating their results. Thanks to the Web’s greater ability to record and store information, all manner of social media will arise to keep users even more tightly connected to friends and businesses alike.

Key Elements of the Transcendent Web

The Social Web

“Social networking has grown hugely in popularity in the past several years, and it will continue to be a mainstay of the Transcendent Web. Indeed, much of the activity on Web 3.0 will take place within the context of social media, as the connections among like-minded people become strengthened and multiplied through Web 3.0’s new technologies,” commented Olaf Acker, Partner at Booz & Company. Recommendations, search, location, and other services will be enhanced and personalised by leveraging the massive amounts of data collected on users as they interact on social networks.

The Semantic Web

Web services such as search have always depended on the specificity of search terms to find accurate results. New technologies are being developed that will understand on a much deeper level the meaning of the search terms people use, and the context in which they are used. This in turn will enable technologies such as resource description framework (RDF) and Web ontology language (OWL), Web languages used to describe different kinds of information and how they are related. Such technologies will be much better at understanding the relationships between data on the Web, and thus enable far better results for those searching and requesting recommendations on the Web.

The Internet of Things

The Transcendent Web will depend greatly on the growing ability of machines to communicate with us and with other machines. More and more things are being made Internet-enabled—houses, cars, appliances, even clothing—allowing them not just to be located through technologies like RFID but to communicate richer amounts of information about themselves. Home appliances that highlight problems for the person repairing them, tags sewn into clothing that allow direct visibility into inventory and pricing information—all this becomes not just possible but also visible to Web users.

Artificial Intelligence

The Transcendent Web will ultimately depend on a high level of artificial intelligence underlying many Web processes. Using inputs from different sources, including browsing history, user-specified preferences, and contextual information such as location, these systems will profile users to better understand both the content and the context of their requests. These inputs will be used to update user profiles and information filters, which in turn further refine the relevance of searches and other activities on the Web.

Making the Transcendent Web a Reality

The various pieces that will eventually make up the Transcendent Web are not fully in place, and it will take some time to ensure that they are. Three areas in particular continue to present challenges to the full development of the technology.

Technical Issues

The Internet’s current technical protocol, called IPv4, can accommodate only about 4.3 billion Internet device addresses, and it is already running short. The Transcendent Web will require many more, but it won’t be able to accommodate them until the full deployment of IPv6, which will multiply the number of potential Internet addresses by the billions. Until it is in place, the vision of the Internet of Things cannot be fully achieved. Indeed, it is the very push to create Web 3.0 that will likely promote the implementation of IPv6.

Security Issues

The Transcendent Web will greatly increase the number of data nodes and interconnections among devices, which in turn will increase the risk of security breaches at any of these many new points. Because much of the Transcendent Web’s success will depend on leveraging sensitive user data—preferences, browsing history, location, and the like—to create a more personalised Web experience, plugging these potential security holes will be critical.

Scale Issues

Implementing the Semantic Web will likely require tagging of much of the content on the Internet in order to make it available for semantic and contextual analysis. A bottom-up approach to annotating all the data on the Web is a huge task, and one that may not be feasible at all. One possible solution would be to tag only newly published data and to develop software that could tag old information automatically by analysing the language of the content.

“These issues are real, and could conceivably become serious roadblocks on the path to the Transcendent Web, but the history of the Internet—a succession of technical breakthroughs over seemingly insurmountable barriers—suggests otherwise. Businesses making long-range plans to take advantage of Web 3.0 should carefully monitor progress in all three areas,” stated Sabbagh.

Impact of the Transcendent Web

As Web 3.0 comes into being; its effect on both users and businesses will be profound. It will change how people work and play, and how companies use information to market and sell their products, as well as operate their businesses.

The Personalised Web

The Transcendent Web will present to users a uniquely personalised experience. Users will be able to find the information they’re looking for quickly and precisely. The technologies behind the Transcendent Web will be able to understand both the content and the context of user requests, and provide results carefully tuned to user needs. Thanks to semantic engines that allow users to search specific content and location-based queries, both complex, research-based queries and entertainment searches such as those for movies and restaurants will generate highly relevant results.

The Business-friendly Web

The current Web has been a tremendous boon for all kinds of businesses, enabling more targeted marketing, increased sales, and operational efficiencies. The Transcendent Web will become an even more effective tool in all three of these areas. The huge increase in user data, behaviour, and preferences offers marketers a great opportunity to attract more consumers to their websites, target their efforts to particular consumers, gather more information about those consumers, and use that information more efficiently.

“Despite the revolutionary potential of the Transcendent Web, the path to its implementation will be an evolution—one that will be accelerated by the rise of Generation C. Still, it will take time. However, companies should not use that as an excuse to wait and see what it will look like once it’s finished. Each stage of the journey will bring benefits; companies therefore need to start planning now to reap those incremental benefits—and to be that much better prepared when all the pieces are in place. In order to get ready for the Transcendent Web, companies need to begin now to build the capabilities that will be a key factor to attaining its benefits,” commented Acker.

Building Capabilities

Open up to the (Internet) world: Ensure that every critical business system is open and ready to securely interface with external systems over Internet protocols. As the value of customer and transaction data increases, every system must be able to capture and work with this information in an intelligent way.

Move to real time: Convert business systems from today’s often asynchronous data management operating models to real-time analytics and processing. All internal and external data needs to be available to real-time analytics engines and automated decision-making processes.

Structure the data: Move to structure all the company’s data so that it can be used in different ways both internally and externally (that is by business partners). Data is instrumental to the vision of the Transcendent Web—the more a company has, and the better it is at managing that data, the greater the company’s competitive advantage.

Develop talent: Create a plan to ensure that the company has the skills needed to take advantage of today’s needs and tomorrow’s opportunities. Keep in mind that the skills required will extend beyond the technology department to encompass the entire organisation—it may be easy to find good programmers who can work with new technologies.

Involve customers: Companies that have not done so already must start now to move their customers from a passive, ‘lean-back’ approach to a more active, ‘lean-forward’ attitude. Stimulate an active online dialogue about company products and services, then capture the information produced and use it to further refine products and services as well as to enhance marketing activities.

“Fulfilling the promise of the Transcendent Web will take time. However, every company should be planning for its arrival by opening business systems to the increased flow of data, investigating new data management and tagging techniques, and developing the skills and capabilities that will be needed when the Transcendent Web becomes a reality,” concluded Sabbagh.